Despite recent grand announcements and numerous meetings, the state of the public healthcare sector continues to deteriorate, teetering on the brink of collapse, government doctors’ union Pasyki said in an open letter on Monday, prompting a stern response by Health Minister Giorgos Pamboridis.
In the letter, Pasyki said it felt obliged to publicise the “ever-worsening” problem of understaffing of medical personnel in state hospitals, while condemning the ongoing absence of “corrective measures”, despite public commitments to this effect.
“The consequences of this policy are primarily felt by the patients – our fellow citizens,” the union said.
“One meeting flows into the next, from the highest political echelons to the lowest levels of the bureaucracy, but the state doctors unfortunately remain actors in the same old play, receiving false promises and left alone to deal with the distortions of the system.”
State doctors have long complained of severe understaffing issues at public hospitals, a direct result of uncompetitive and inflexible compensation schemes. In a bid to address the issues, the government responded by unfreezing a limited number of positions, referrals to the private sector, and a road-map for the full implementation of the national health scheme (NHS), a major part of which is the financial and administrative autonomy of state hospitals.
“In reality, what we are seeing is an insistence by the health minister on the introduction of his own model for autonomy (presently in the form of the legal framework only, nothing in practical terms, and, most importantly, nothing on whether it will safeguard the viability of state hospitals),” PASYKI said.
At the same time, it added, a deliberate effort to avoid introducing permanent solutions to recurring problems had been identified.
“These two facts reasonably give rise to the following questions: is there a real grasp by the health ministry of the problems facing state hospitals, the extent of reorganisation necessary, and the risks to public health due to the procrastination exhibited?
“In the end, is there any chance that the policies we are seeing are being introduced deliberately with the ultimate goal of asphyxiating state hospitals, leading to their collapse?”
Pasyki conceded that Pamboridis’ predecessor handed him “state hospitals on life support”, but these were now “in freefall” and “heading to death”.
“The obvious risk is that efforts for autonomy will soon become moot, since there will be nothing to make autonomous,” the union warned.
Pasyki complained that the ministry’s refusal to take the necessary steps to attract and retain medical staff continued to frustrate doctors, leading more and more to depart the state health sector.
“Unfortunately, the patience and tolerance we have shown in our effort to support state hospitals and keep the Cypriot patient from inconvenience has led to the continued and progressive devaluation of our professional dignity,” the union said.
“Pasyki’s board assures the ministry and the government that in a meeting within the week it will formulate measures of response.”
In a letter of response to Pasyki chief Soteris Koumas later on Monday, Pamboridis said the government was at the disposal of both Pasyki and all other stakeholders, on condition that “focus remains on reform, autonomy, and the NHS”.
“At this critical juncture, when the state responds to the popular demand for radical reform of the health sector, there is no room for stalling tactics aiming to exculpate those who want nothing to change,” Pamboridis said.
Pamboridis also expressed surprise, saying he and Pasyki had “discussed these matters at length for several hours last Wednesday”, noting that, although a timeline has been agreed, Pasyki had once more retreated.
“It would be disappointing, to say the least, if it were proven that your participation in the ongoing dialogue has been no more than pretence,” Pamboridis said.
“If your intention was to overturn reform, the effort for autonomy, and the NHS, it would be much more honest on your part to say so clearly.”